The new University Chancellor was announced last week as Sanjeev Bhaskar OBE. A writer and actor, Bhaskar is famed for his roles in TV comedy Goodness Gracious Me and his leading role in comedy chat-show The Kumars at No. 42.
The search for a new Chancellor took nearly a year since it was announced that previous Chancellor, Lord Attenborough, would be stepping down after 10 years at last year’s summer graduations, last March.
Mr. Bhaskar said of his new appointment that he is “passionate about the opportunity to contribute to change and development for individuals and society” and “extremely proud to be associated with a radical, transformational university, such as Sussex.”
Mr. Bhaskar will be formally installed into his new role at this summer’s graduation ceremony. Bhaskar said of his predecessor: “Having had the privilege of meeting Lord Attenborough several times and being continually inspired by him as an artist, humanitarian and family man and knowing of his passion for education, it is humbling to follow in his esteemed footsteps at the University of Sussex.”
Mr. Bhaskar was nominated as a candidate by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Farthing (who has wrote a guest blog on the appointment exclusively for The Badger Online) and Chair of University Council, Simon Fanshawe. Professor Farthing described Sanjeev Bhaskar as his “perfect candidate” saying that, “Not only is he a gifted and inspiring writer and entertainer, he has also demonstrated a real commitment to education across continents. He will support me as we progress our ambition to further internationalise the University. Above all, he will be a delightful colleague.”
University Court held a special meeting on 23 February where Mr. Bhaskar received unanimous support from Sussex academics and local figures such as the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, the local NHS Partnership Trust and the High Sheriff of Sussex. However, Mr. Bhaskar is one of 133 names initially proposed and the 18th person to be asked to fill the position. He was suggested as he fits well into the University’s strategy for the future to attract more international students and he has lots of links with India to hopefully help create a more international university.
The Chancellor plays an important, but often behind-the-scenes role in the running of the University. The Chancellor is primarily the figurehead of the University and is most recognised for the part he or she plays in the summer and winter graduation ceremonies, conferring degrees on all students. The Chancellor also acts as the chair of University Court, which meets annually to discuss a report on University activities and work together with University management on engagement with local communities and businesses.
Student reaction to the new appointment has generally been very positive. Final year English and American Studies student, Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski, welcomes the news saying that “It’s great to see an artistic comedian like Mr. Bhaskar having such a symbolic role at the head of Sussex University. Let’s just hope his tenure is not a joke though!” Another student commented: “I would like to know by what criteria they select the new Chancellor. It’s not that I don’t support him, I just don’t see the relationship between him and Sussex.” USSU President Laura Tazzioli said: “I hope that he’ll take Sussex to heart as much as Richard did.”
Mr. Bhaskar was born in Ealing in 1963 and grew up living above a laundrette with his parents in Hounslow, East London. He earned a degree in Marketing from Hatfield Polytechnic (now the University of Hertfordshire) before joining IBM to work as a marketing executive. However, performance was his true calling and he left his job to join forces with friend and musician Nitin Sawhney, creating a musical comedy double-act called “The Secret Asians” in 1996. After a successful show at the Oval House in South London they were approached by Anil Gupta, producer of sketch show Goodness Gracious Me which transferred from BBC Radio 4 to BBC television in 1998.
Bhaskar made his solo leap in November 2001 with the spoof chat-show The Kumars at No. 42 in which he tried to host a celebrity chat-show from his family living room. The show ran for seven series and in 2005 he married his Kumars co-star Meera Syal. That same year he received an OBE for his contribution to entertainment and in December, Meera gave birth to their son, Shaan.
More recently, in 2007 Bhaskar took part in a series of documentaries for the BBC, tracing his ancestral roots to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan. He wrote a book to accompany the series entitled “India with Sanjeev Bhaskar” which became a bestseller. He is currently in the process of writing and starring in an ITV comedy Mumbai Calling, set in an Indian call centre, and the UK tour of the American hit improv show, Totally Looped. Mr. Bhaskar has also been heavily involved with a number of education projects in both England and India.
The nominations are made in accordance with the University Charter and Statutes which set out the criteria for choosing a new Chancellor and details of the appointment process. A Chancellor must “embody the values and spirit of the University – and someone whose own success, ambitions and hopes for the world can reflect that of the special community that is the University of Sussex.”
Simon Fanshawe, the chair of University Council, said: “In appointing Sanjeev Bhaskar, the University is making a powerful statement that Sussex is looking to its future. In mid career, he has made a considerable impact in his field and is on the cusp of greater achievement.”